Choke signs absent as Magic comeback keeps Pacers quiet

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Here are some things that didn't happen last night as the Indiana Pacers opened their NBA Eastern Conference championship series with the Orlando Magic:

* Reggie Miller didn't call anyone a choke artist.

* He didn't give the choke sign to any of the local celebrities, the selection being rather limited here since neither Hulk Hogan nor Mickey Mouse was in attendance.

* He didn't win the game.

Miller came out blazing, scoring 17 points in the first quarter as the Pacers grabbed a 23-5 lead before having it cut to 27-23, but then they faded away as the Magic cruised to a 105-101 victory and a 1-0 lead.

Miller hit five of his first seven shots, including two three-pointers, but only four of his last 14, and Coach Larry Brown sat him out for a long stretch of the second half.

"You've got to give credit where credit is due," Miller said. "I think you've got to give credit to Nick [Anderson of Orlando]."

Credit where credit is due?

This was certainly a different Reggie, and unless appearances were misleading, an emotionally spent one, even if he wasn't supposed to admit it.

Sunday night, he led the Pacers to a Game 7 victory and sank to his knees in Madison Square Garden, where he had previously insulted most of the players and some of the spectators, as if in prayer. Monday, they were back home in Indiana. Tuesday, here.

If two days weren't enough time to disengage from one series and begin another, that was tough luck, Brown said.

"Hey, I wouldn't care if it was five minutes, to be honest," he said. "They [the Magic] finished in six and they deserved the rest. We finished in seven and I was thrilled to have the opportunity. . .

"We got through a tough series, but Houston [which won Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at San Antonio] got through a tough series."

Coaches are leery of short turnarounds and long layoffs, too, but everyone was surprised to see the Pacers spurt to a 10-0 lead, with Miller scoring nine points, then to 23-5.

With 2:54 left in the first quarter, the Magic finally hit double figures. Shaquille O'Neal was on the bench in early foul trouble and things were looking strange.

"I think we had too much rest," O'Neal said later. "Four days off, riding our jet skis, chilling out. . . "

The Pacers expected a Magic rally but were hoping for a smaller one than the 18-4 run that turned it back into a game, with Dennis Scott, the local gunner, hitting three three-pointers in 80 seconds, a streak someone suggested was "Miller-esque."

"No," Scott said. "Dennis Scott."

Scott started this season a forgotten man -- a pudgy small forward who had been demoted to the bench, an overpriced reserve at $3.2 million a year who wasn't expected to be asked back. When he warmed up in mid-season and the fans clamored for more of him, Coach Brian Hill acted irritated.

rTC Scott was still coming off the bench when the Chicago series opened. In the first three games, he was 2-for-16 on three-pointers, but since he has turned torrid and become a starter. The Magic, given a fifth weapon, has become formidable.

"You know how shooters are," Scott said, laughing. "I just love to shoot the basketball. I don't care if I go 0-for-whatever, I just keep on shooting."

After the first quarter, the Pacers did well to hang on, seeing as how Miller was a ghost and Rik Smits was in constant foul trouble.

Smits had eight points at the start of the fourth quarter. Miller scored five in the second and third periods combined, but the Pacers drew within 83-78 early in the fourth, led by Byron Scott, who scored 18 points in 22 minutes.

The Pacers' first team went back in, and the Magic's first team, led by O'Neal, drew away.

A year ago, the Pacers held O'Neal to a 21-point average in their three-game sweep, O'Neal making only 47 percent of his free throws in that series. But it's a new day. He scored 32 points last night, making 10 of his 12 free throws, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Since the start of the Bull series, he's shooting 67 percent from the line.

With 1:34 left, Orlando led, 103-93, and Miller was out of miracles, at least for the moment.

This being the new Reggie, he didn't remind everyone the series is young, but it is.

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